The wheels of justice turn slowly, and it often comes too late, but justice finally came for “America’s most corrupt sheriff” crazy Uncle Joe Arpaio on Monday. Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio found guilty of criminal contempt of court:
In a verdict filed Monday morning, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton said evidence demonstrated Arpaio’s “flagrant disregard” for another federal judge’s order that halted his signature immigration round-ups.
The sentencing phase will begin Oct. 5. Arpaio, 85, faces up to six months in confinement, a sentence equivalent to that of a misdemeanor.
In what has become customary in judgments against Arpaio, Bolton liberally inserted the lawman’s public remarks, mostly issued through news releases and media clips, to support her opinion.
“Credible testimony shows that the Defendant knew of the order and what the order meant in regards to the MCSO’s policy of detaining persons who did not have state charges for turnover to ICE for civil immigration violations,” the ruling read.
“Despite this knowledge, (the) Defendant broadcast to the world and to his subordinates that he would and they should continue ‘what he had always been doing.’”
The verdict is a rejection of Arpaio’s defense: That the order was unclear and that, although mistakes had been made, the violations were unintended. Willful intent is required to prove criminal contempt rather than civil contempt.
But of course … Arpaio’s attorneys issued a statement Monday saying he will appeal the ruling and will continue to press for a jury trial. Why bother? This is a federal court. Why not just ask Arpaio’s good buddy Donald Trump to use his newly discovered pardon power to just pardon him?
Monday’s decision caps the latest chapter in a decadelong racial-profiling case that began after allegations that Arpaio’s deputies were targeting Latinos during their immigration-enforcement operations.
In the late 2000s and early 2010s, Arpaio’s office was known as the “tip of the spear” that would enforce the state’s hard-line immigration efforts. Its crackdowns included “pretextual” traffic stops to net those in the country illegally and patrol sweeps that zeroed in on Hispanic neighborhoods.
Many of those taken into custody were not accused of violating a state crime but only of living in the country illegally. Once they were detained, deputies would turn over the individuals to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement or Border Patrol officials, who would initiate deportation proceedings.
The intent was to essentially act as another arm of the federal government, which has exclusive power to enforce civil-immigration violations.
Snow presided over the civil case, ruling in 2013 Arpaio’s office had racially profiled.
At the time, the ruling seemed to signal the end of a costly county battle with civil-rights advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union.
But the case continued to expand as the Sheriff’s Office struggled to implement mandated reforms, and as allegations of the office violating Snow’s orders began to cement.
In 2015, Snow ordered a civil trial of sorts to determine whether Arpaio’s office had violated three separate orders. Two centered on allegations that the department had failed to turn over evidence in case, and the third on whether Arpaio had violated a 2011 preliminary injunction that barred deputies from detaining migrants not suspected of a crime.
Last year, Snow found Arpaio and three aides guilty of civil contempt. He then referred Arpaio, two aides and a former attorney for criminal contempt charges, though federal prosecutors opted to only pursue Arpaio, and to charge him only on the preliminary injunction violation.
The proceedings lasted four days in June, and closing arguments were heard July 6.
During the trial, prosecutors from the Justice Department’s Public Integrity section showed how Arpaio’s deputies illegally detained 171 individuals after Snow’s December 2011 injunction.
They showcased news releases, media clips and old depositions to try to demonstrate Arpaio was more interested in burnishing his political reputation than following a judge’s orders.
In the clips and news releases, Arpaio is quoted — after the injunction — as saying that he will continue to enforce state and federal immigration law.
In one particularly potent clip, Arpaios is seen talking to an inmate at his jails, who states that Arpaio is outranked by federal law.
“No,” Arpaio said. “Nobody is higher than me. I am the elected sheriff by the people. I don’t serve any governor or the president.”
This is the extreme right-wing nonsense promoted by former Graham County Sheriff Richard Mack and his so-called Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, as well as the Oath Keepers and Posse Comitatus. What makes this extremist movement dangerous is that they are comprised of mostly law enforcement officers who see themselves as the law unto themselves.
Federal trial attorney John Keller said Arpaio’s words show that he was willfully defiant of Snow’s order.
“He didn’t care about the federal court injunction,” Keller said. “That wasn’t going to stop him from running his office the way he saw fit.”
The prosecutors’ strategy seemed to track well with Bolton, who also used Arpaio’s quotes liberally throughout her ruling. She cited various televised interviews with Arpaio, one in which he bragged he would “never give in to control by the federal government.”
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Though many on social media mused about a sentence in what were once his own jails, that scenario seems improbable.
Should Arpaio be sentenced to incarceration, U.S. marshals in Arizona would be responsible for arresting him and placing him in custody.
“Traditionally, short-term sentence prisoners who are not going to be part of the Bureau of Prison systems are handled individually by the U.S. Marshals Office,” said U.S. Marshal David Gonzales.
Gonzales said the marshals contract with several local and private facilities, and that typically a short-term federal prisoner isn’t housed in Maricopa County jails.
Although Arpaio officially faces as many as six months of incarceration, many legal experts say even that is unlikely.
“I’d say the likelihood of Sheriff Arpaio spending six months in jail are slim to none,” said Paul Charlton, former U.S. attorney for the District of Arizona. The tougher question, Charlton said, is whether Arpaio will get any jail time.
Sadly, I have to agree with Paul Charlton.